The Missouri Times sat down with State Auditor Thomas Schweich for an in-depth Q&A. The interview is divided into three parts, for the ease of the reader. This portion focuses on Schweich’s background as a diplomat and counter-terrorism work.
TMT: Lots of people link you to former Senator and former Ambassador [John] Danforth. How did your relationship begin?
Schweich: I first met [Danforth] as an intern in his office and found him to be a wonderful person to work for. We reconnected after he retired from the U.S. Senate in 1994, I believe. He joined Bryan Cave Law Firm and I had lunch with him a couple of times, and then I wrote my first book, “Protect Yourself From Business Lawsuits and Lawyers Like Me.” I wrote it in 1996 and 1997 and I showed it to him and asked him if he would take a look at it and see if it had any promise. It was a manuscript written on spec, there was no publisher lined up. People don’t do that very often; write a book without anyone lined up to publish. And he really liked it and he was encouraging and gave me some good ideas for some edits. He went through it line by line and was very impressed. That established a friendship and mutual respect. Then I ended up getting it published and he was impressed with that. We had kind of a friendship based on that relationship and how he helped me with the book.
There’s a section [in the book] about conducting internal investigations for corporations when there is possible wrongdoing. So what happens in 1999, Janet Reno calls Jack [Danforth], and this was when the Waco incident was in full bloom. You may remember the siege was in 1993, the original raid of the ATF was in February and then in April the FBI went in and burned it down and 84 people were killed. The FBI testified that it was a suicide pact: that they’d burned down the compound as some sort of apocalyptic suicide pact and that was pretty much accepted as a very tragic result. People were disappointed in what happened and some people were very unhappy about it, as we saw from the Oklahoma City bombing. But most people accepted the view that there had been a pact and these people had killed themselves.
TMT: Did you imagine yourself in an office like [Auditor] one day?
TMT: When did you start you realize you might be headed that way?
Schweich: As soon as we started the Waco investigation. I worked side-by-side with Senator Danforth on that investigation for 18 months. It was a bi-partisan group, our group. We were doing something important and we could tell as we did it. The credibility of the U.S. Military and the FBI was in-question. And our job was to find the truth and get it out there. It turned out the “Davidians” killed themselves, and there were no Special Forces. But, the FBI had lied about the pyrotechnic tear gas and we did indict someone over that. The FBI was worried that if someone found out they’d used that tear gas, they would think they started the fire. In fact, the tear gas was fired at a concrete bunker near the compound, not the compound itself. We ended-up finding the FBI and Special Forces hadn’t killed anybody, but there had been a cover up at the Justice Department about the use of pyrotechnic tear gas.
TMT: Who was the person who was indicted?
Schweich: His name was Bill Johnson, and there were other people that were disciplined as well. But the bottom line is: I realized that public service is interesting and exciting. You’re doing something important that people appreciate. You aren’t doing it for the money.
In 2004 Senator Danforth was named U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, he was in New York City in a bulletproof car with the outgoing ambassador and I guess they had some kind of conversation about the importance of a Chief of Staff. And [Danforth] called from the car and said “Would you like to be Chief of Staff to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations?” And I remember thinking I didn’t know anything about diplomacy. I remember very clearly Danforth saying, “Neither do I, let’s learn together,” you know, being modest, as he is. I had to talk it over with my family because I had two little kids. I was going to commute from Saint Louis to New York and the U.N. Security Council meets a lot on Saturday’s a lot….
It was important work and I really enjoyed being part of it. Jack stayed for about 6 months and got President Bush through the election and then he decided he was going to leave. I decided I’d leave too, and they appointed an acting-U.N. Ambassador and she asked me to stay on until John Bolton’s confirmation hearings were done. That dragged on for eight months, they did a total hatchet job on him. He’s a wonderful man and they dragged him through the coals. When John Bolton arrived, I figured he’d have his own Chief of Staff, but he was extremely supportive of me and knew I had an anti-corruption background and wanted me to stay for the oil-for-food scandal. My main job was exposing that scandal. I worked very well with a spectrum of Republicans. I don’t’ always work well with liberals, but I work well with all Republicans. Danforth and Bolton Republicans are very different, but I enjoyed working for both of them immensely. Whether it’s an Ashcroft Republican or a Danforth or a Bolton, I can work well with a wide spectrum. I think it’s really important for the Republican Party to recognize that all of us are better for America than the liberals and we need to try to be unified as much as possible.
TMT: Can you walk me through your anti-terrorism work?
Schweich: We fought all criminal activity when I was in the State department. Drugs are a serious health problem and law enforcement problem because they are just bad. Almost every major terrorist organization in the world now finances their operation through drug money. FARC, Hezbollah, Hamas, Taliban. We were not only fighting drugs, we were specifically targeting terrorist groups and trying to cut them off from their funding.
Nowhere was that more evident than in my last job in Afghanistan as the U.S. Coordinator for Counter-narcotics and Justice Reform. That job was based in D.C., and I’d coordinate the plan to deal with the trade and the judicial system in Afghanistan. They had no real judicial system. I’d fly to Europe and then to Afghanistan to get them to agree to some of the policies we’d agreed on and reduce their heroin production. Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s heroin. It’s almost the sole producer. The Taliban takes a 10 percent cut off the top of that trade. By depriving them of heroin money we were also assisting the U.S. military in the region. The IED’s the assaults, all the stuff you hear about, and it’s all funded with drug money. My job was to put in education programs and convince them heroin was, in fact, against their religion. We try to get them to grow alternative crops. Eradication programs were important. That was the job that President Bush gave me the rank of Ambassador for, so that’s how I became an Ambassador. It was rewarding, very rewarding, to meet with tribal leaders and try to put programs in place to reduce the poppy. The first two years it was in place, our program cut the heroin by 40 percent. Unfortunately, President Obama reversed some of those policies because he didn’t want to punish farmers, even those that were growing heroin. There was some resurgence after that, which was a mistake on the part of the Obama Administration.
TMT: Lots of issues going on in the Capitol right now. Right to Work is the issue of the day. What’s your position on Right to Work and what do you think it would do for the state either way.
Schweich: I’m in favor of anything that will encourage job growth and the expansion of Missouri’s economy. I do think allowing more choice to union members is a very good idea.
TMT: What is best thing Missouri could do for jobs right now?
Schweich: Look at targeted tax cuts. I think we have to, very carefully, evaluate our tax credit programs and determine if they are worth the money we are spending on them. We’re auditing those credits right now.
TMT: The other big issue is medical malpractice. As an attorney you have a unique view on the issue.
Schweich: I think medical malpractice is out of control and we need limits. I also think that on the front end, there are a lot of things companies, doctors and other entities can do to limit their litigation exposure. They make silly, stupid mistakes that make it easier to get sued. We need a combination of preventive measures taken by the doctors and the companies and a reasonable limit on the amount of awards you can get from juries. I think tort reform should be a very high priority for any elected official in Missouri.